• Pakistan-Saudi Arabia
• Peace and Reconciliation
II Developments in Pakistan
With an eye on its forthcoming review at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Pakistan issued two notifications regarding application of UNSC prescribed sanctions on 88 leaders and members of various terror groups included in the UNSC 1267 list. Those mentioned in the notifications included members of JuD, JeM, Taliban, Daesh, Haqqani network, Al-Qaeda and others. The list also included Dawood Ibrahim, with his residential address in Karachi. The Indian media was quick to point out that the Pakistani authorities had finally acknowledged his presence in Pakistan. However, the Pak Foreign Office stated that no new sanctions had been imposed and the two notifications mentioned individuals sanctioned by the UN Security Council. It claimed that orders imposing restrictions on such persons are issued from time to time and were last issued in 2019. It was further stated that the Indian media claim that Pakistan had acknowledged the presence of the persons concerned on its territory was not correct and their details were mentioned as per the information contained in the UNSC list.
Three JuD leaders, Malik Zafar Iqbal, Hafiz Abdul Salam and Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki were convicted on terror financing charges by a Pakistani court and sentenced to varying prison terms. The Lahore High Court has already suspended the sentence of Makki and Salam, awarded following their conviction in another case on similar charges.
Pakistan organised a number of activities on the first anniversary of abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir by India and its split into two union territories on August 5, 2019. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak visited the LoC “to show solidarity with the Kashmiri people”. The highway leading from Islamabad to PoK, hitherto known as Kashmir highway, was renamed Srinagar highway. Pakistan also issued a new official map, with PM Imran Khan describing it as the first step towards resolution of the “73-year old dispute”. As per the information put out by the Government of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir have been given the same green colour to show that it is one territory. The description of the region has been changed from “Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir” to “Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir” with the notation that its final status is to be decided in line with the relevant UNSC resolutions. In deference to China’s territorial claims, the eastern boundary of the territory has been left unmarked with the notation “Frontier Undefined”. The LoC has been extended beyond point NJ9842 in a manner as to show Siachen and Karakoram pass on the Pakistani side. Junagadh and Manavadar also figure in the map. Finally, the boundary of Sir Creek has been shown on its eastern bank as per Pakistan’s claim. India rejected the map as an exercise in political absurdity, laying untenable claims to Indian territory, adding that these ridiculous assertions neither had legal validity nor international credibility. PM Imran Khan addressed the POK assembly, acknowledging that its members might be feeling that they had lost out, but he believed that Kashmiris would be free soon. He added that his government had not been able to implement its plan for Kashmiris properly due to the distraction caused by Coronavirus! The Pak Parliament met in a joint sitting and passed a resolution rejecting India’s August 5, 2019 move. On its independence day, Pakistan conferred Nishan-e-Pakistan on the separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wrote to the President of the UN Security Council, requesting for a Council meeting to consider the consequences of the Indian move concerning J&K. Subsequently, with a push from China, UNSC met in a closed door meeting on August 5. Qureshi claimed that members of the Council had described the overall situation as tense and UN Secretariat and UNMOGIP briefed them. He further claimed that the need to strengthen UNMOGIP was also underscored. He stated separately that there would be no talks with India till the August 5, 2019 action was revoked. However, the Indian Permanent Representative to the UN said that in the UNSC meeting, which was closed, informal, not recorded and without any outcome, almost all members underlined that J&K was a bilateral issue and did not deserve time and attention of the Council. This was the third failed attempt by Pakistan to get an outcome on the issue from the Council. The steps taken by the Pakistani authorities on the first anniversary of revocation of J&K’s special status by India were largely symbolic- a fact that was acknowledged by independent Pakistani observers also. In a sign of frustration and divisions within the government, the Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari said that the Pak Foreign Office had let down Prime Minister Imran Khan and Kashmiris on the Kashmir issue. India called for permanently removing the J&K issue under the outdated agenda item of the ‘India-Pakistan question’ from the UNSC agenda.
Pakistan issued a long statement criticising construction of Ram mandir at Ayodhya. It also rejected the charge sheet filed by Indian security agencies in the Pulwama attack case, tracing it back to Pakistan.
Considering the Pakistan government request to appoint a defence lawyer for Kulbhushan Jadhav, the Islamabad High Court decided to constitute a three member bench to examine the matter. It also directed the government to make another offer to the Government of India and Jadhav to name a defence counsel. India, however, said that for a free and fair trial in keeping with the letter and spirit of the ICJ judgment, it had asked for an Indian lawyer to represent Jadhav, adding that Pakistan had to first address the core issues- giving copies of relevant documents of the case and providing unimpeded consular access. Separately, in response to a Pakistani request for deposition by 27 Indian witnesses in the Mumbai terror attack trial in Pakistan, India said that a Pak judicial commission could come to India to record their testimony.
Speaking at a TV talk show, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that convening of an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting on Kashmir was Pakistan’s expectation, but if OIC could not do so, he would have to ask PM Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. The remark was seen as a veiled attack on Saudi Arabia that has been reluctant to convene a ministerial meeting specifically on Kashmir. It would be recalled that Pakistan had stayed away at the last minute from a meeting of Islamic countries convened by Malaysia because of Saudi opposition. At that time, there was an expectation in Pakistan that the Saudis might relent on their request for a ministerial meeting on Kashmir. However, this has not happened. Media reports also stated that Pakistan had paid back $1 billion out of a Saudi loan of $3billion, taken about a year and a half ago to shore up its foreign exchange reserves. The repayment was reported to have been made at Saudi request by obtaining a loan from China. Media reports further suggested that a deferred payment facility of $3.2 billion for import of oil, given by the Saudis to help Pakistan tide over its balance of payments crisis, had expired in May and was yet to be renewed by the Saudi Arabia.
Qureshi’s above remarks caused a political and media storm in Pakistan, not used to such public criticism of Saudi Arabia. Initially, the Foreign Office defended the remarks, calling them a reflection of the people’s aspirations and expectations from the OIC. However, it soon became clear that Qureshi had overstepped his limits, causing unhappiness in Saudi Arabia and it was reported that COAS Bajwa would visit Riyadh to ease the diplomatic strains caused by Qureshi’s remarks, as Saudi financial support was critical for Pakistan. The army spokesman said that nobody could doubt the centrality of Saudi Arabia to the Muslim world. General Bajwa visited Saudi Arabia later in the month and met military leaders. He also met the Saudi Deputy Defence Minister, but there was some disappointment in Pakistan that there had been no meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Pak Foreign Office changed its tune, acknowledging OIC contribution to the ‘Kashmir cause’. Finally, a sobered Qureshi too stated that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were each other’s “support and necessity”.
Qureshi’s veiled criticism of Saudi Arabia led to a misperceived speculation that Pakistan was about to cast its lot with Iran and Turkey against Saudi Arabia and its allies. However, to begin with, Pakistan continues to have many differences with Iran resulting, inter alia, from the sectarian issue. Further, Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is too important for it to contemplate any such step. Its backtracking on Qureshi’s remark made this amply clear.
Pakistan gave its approval to Mainline-1 railway project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with the financial outlay of $6.8 billion, 90% of which would come as loans from China. The project would be implemented in three phases to stay within the borrowing limits set by the IMF. Work will be executed by Chinese contractors. The project includes dualization and upgrading of the 1872 km. railway track from Peshawar to Karachi.
A conference of Pakistan’s nine major political parties, organised by the International Department of the CPC, pledged to ensure a conducive political environment and favourable public opinion for the progress and development of the CPEC, besides protecting it from threats. It denounced “slander on and disturbance in CPEC development by external forces.”
Foreign Minister Qureshi visited China and met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. According to a joint press statement issued at the end of the dialogue, the two sides reached a consensus to collectively take measures to safeguard their common interests and promote “peace, prosperity and development in the region.” China expressed its firm support for safeguarding Pakistan’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Pakistan, in turn, extended its support for China’s core interests and issues of major concern, “such as those related to Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.” They vowed to advance the construction of CPEC. China reiterated that “the Kashmir issue is a dispute left over from history between India and Pakistan, which is an objective fact, and that the dispute should be resolved peacefully and properly through the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements” and it opposed any “unilateral actions that complicate the situation.” China and Pakistan also agreed to strengthen cooperation on the Afghan issue. India rejected the references to J&K in the joint statement, stating that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of India and it expects the parties concerned not to interfere in its internal affairs.
In keeping with the budgetary support extended by China in recent years, it allowed Pakistan to use $1 billion of its deposit with the State Bank of Pakistan for its budgetary needs.
Reacting to the decision of UAE and Israel to fully normalise their relations and establish diplomatic contacts, Pakistan called it a development with far reaching implications. It was further stated that Pakistan has an abiding commitment to the full realisation of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the right of self-determination and peace and stability in the middle east region is also Pakistan’s key priority. The Pak communique said that Pakistan has consistently supported a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant UN and OIC resolutions as well as international law and its approach would be guided by “how Palestinians’ rights and aspirations are upheld and how regional peace, security and stability are preserved”. The statement was carefully worded to avoid any criticism of the UAE in view of Pakistan’s need for their financial support. In a subsequent statement, PM Imran Khan said that Pakistan could never accept the state of Israel until the people of Palestine got their rights and state. He added that the case of Palestinians is similar to that of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan’s acceptance of the state of Israel would amount to giving up its stance on Kashmir. There have been occasional media reports of Pakistan considering recognition of the state of Israel, but this has not come to pass. Besides the above reason mentioned by PM Imran Khan, the opposition of Pakistan’s sizeable lobby of religious extremists also seems to have weighed on government’s mind.
III Developments in Afghanistan
Peace and Reconciliation
August witnessed continued hectic activity by the Americans to ensure commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations that were stuck on the issue of release of four hundred Taliban prisoners, accused of serious crimes, by the Afghan government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to the Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar at the beginning of the month. The Loya Jirga announced by President Ghani earlier to consider the release of the above prisoners met in August. Addressing the assembly, Ghani said that it had been convened because based on the Constitution of Afghanistan, the release of the four hundred prisoners was not within his authority as President. He added that the Taliban had agreed to start intra Afghan dialogue if these prisoners were released and had warned of continued bloodshed in the event of their non-release. The US welcomed convening of the Loya Jirga. The assembly approved release of the above prisoners to quickly start intra-Afghan talks and bring about a ceasefire and an end to the war. Significantly, it also called for preservation and strengthening of Afghanistan’s achievements over the last two decades, emphasising in particular women’s rights and their participation in the peace process. It underlined the need to preserve the Afghan Constitution as the national guarantee, adding that it could be amended, if necessary, in accordance with the mechanism for that purpose provided within it. Finally, the Jirga called for strengthening of the Afghan security forces as guardians of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Addressing a public meeting, President Ghani said that peace did not mean a power sharing deal. A subsequent decree issued by the President paved the way for release of prisoners. However, further hurdles cropped up because of objections by France and Australia to release of some Taliban prisoners, who had committed crimes against their nationals and non-release of about twenty government commandos held by the Taliban. Efforts continued till the end of the month to resolve these problems.
In the midst of this impasse, a delegation of Taliban, headed by Mullah Baradar, visited Pakistan at the invitation of Foreign Minister Qureshi. PM Imran Khan telephoned Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation to assure him of Pakistan’s support to the peace process and invite him to Pakistan. However, the Afghan government criticised the Taliban visit to Pakistan as against all principles, adding that a group cannot represent the people of Afghanistan. In a tweet, Vice President Amrullah Saleh criticized Pakistan for hosting “terrorist Taliban” a day after announcing sanctions against them.
President Ghani issued a decree approving 46 members of the High Council for National Reconciliation. The list included former President Hamid Karzai and Vice President Amrullah Saleh. Hamid Karzai refused to accept membership of the Council, stating that he would not be part of any government structure. In a sign of his continuing differences with the President, Abdullah Abdullah said that according to his political agreement with Ghani, it was his authority as head of the Reconciliation Council to appoint its members and, therefore, there was no need of a Presidential decree on the subject.
Reacting to reports of attempts by Pakistan to erect a fence along the Durand Line abutting the Kunar province, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that in response of any such action taken by Pakistan, it has recorded its protest through the Afghan embassy in Islamabad. The Afghan forces conducted a military exercise in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province. The border in this area had seen the death of nine civilians and injury to around 50 in an artillery attack by the Pakistani forces at the end of July.
A bilateral meeting under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) took place in Kabul. According to a statement issued by the Pak Foreign Office, the two sides reiterated their commitment to optimally utilise APAPPS to deliberate on all key issues, effectively address common challenges and pursue new opportunities. The two sides agreed to hold more frequent meetings of APAPPS, a framework established in 2018 for institutional engagement between the two countries. Media reports quoted the head of the Afghan delegation as saying that his delegation took up matters relating to border fencing by Pakistan, border incidents, problems faced by Afghan refugees in Pakistan, trade and transit issues and the peace process.
(The views expressed are personal)